Articles of impeachment against President Trump unveiled
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said it is "way too early" to make an assessment on President Trump's impeachment, but added that he is "keeping an open mind."
"It's way too early for me to make that assessment," the Utah senator told CNN. "There will be a trial in the Senate — we will hear the arguments from both sides. Upon those arguments, and whatever evidence they present, I'll make a decision."
Asked if he's open to voting to convict Trump, he said, "I'm keeping an open mind until that process is completed."
Separately, Senate Majority Whip John Thune was asked if he expected any GOP votes to convict Trump: "You have to go through the process, but I would not expect that to be the case."
Also, one moderate Democrat— Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — refused to take any questions about her views on the articles of impeachment. An aide repeatedly interjected and instructed reporters to call her press office.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said some GOP members are forming their own “conspiracy caucus,” where they are “pushing known Putin propaganda that Ukraine interfered in our elections."
Schumer added that none of these conspiracy theories “address the facts in the articles of impeachment.”
Schumer was also asked when he’ll have discussions with McConnell on the Senate trial. He replied, “As soon as he’s ready.”
Asked if he has received an invitation from McConnell yet, Schumer said “not yet, no.”
Schumer wouldn’t get into specifics about what the ideal Senate trial would look like, in response to a reporter question. He only said, “it should be fair, it should be bipartisan, and it should let the facts come out.”
He added: “It is not lost on members of the United States Senate that the White House has made a choice to block witnesses from testifying under oath and has refused to provide documents that might disprove the evidence against the President.”
Some House Democrats from districts that President Trump won in 2016 met Monday to discuss ways to possibly avoid a full on impeachment trial. They suggested an official censure of the President instead.
They argue that the outcome of an impeachment trial in the GOP Senate will inevitably lead to an acquittal, and say they hope a censure option could broaden the chance of building bipartisan support.
But the members recognized that censuring the President was unlikely to succeed, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate trial will start "right around the time the bowl games end," at a news briefing following Senate lunches today.
An aide said McConnell is talking about starting the trial after the New Year's bowls, which are a series of six college football matches.
CNN’s Lauren Fox asked if he will be meeting soon, or even next week, with Minority Leader Schumer to discuss Senate trial procedure, McConnell replied: "Yeah, we'll be talking about the way to go forward and see if we can reach an agreement."
But he added they have not spoken about it yet.
Asked if the Senate will take live witnesses or use taped depositions, McConnell said, “We'll make that decision after we've heard the opening argument.”
The House Democrats’ announcement this morning of articles of impeachment against President Trump highlighted how time is of the essence when Congress wants to check the power of the presidency. But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s remarks also noted the judicial branch’s power and timing — and how the federal courts, in this situation, may be taking too long.
What Schiff said:
“It has taken us eight months get a lower court ruling that Don McGahn has no absolute right to defy Congress. Eight months. For one court decision. If it takes us another eight months to get a second court or maybe a Supreme Court decision, people need to understand, that is not the end of the process. It comes back to us and we ask questions because he no longer has absolute immunity and then he claims something else, that his answers are privileged and we have to go back to court for another eight or 16 months.”
In many ways, Schiff’s right. (He’s certainly correct about the timeline in former White House counsel Don McGahn's case, which is still unresolved.) Federal courts have spent months weighing disputes between the House and Trump or his White House, especially when they relate to possible impeachment. And none of the cases have been definitively decided yet.
Here are some more examples:
- This afternoon, potential impeachment witness Charles Kupperman, a former Trump deputy national security adviser, is in court about whether he can ask a judge to decide if he must testify. The hearing begins at 3 p.m., and what happens in the case (if it happens quickly enough) could affect the House’s ability to call other top witnesses whom the White House has stonewalled, like former national security adviser John Bolton or chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
- House committees subpoenaed Trump’s financial records and other documents from two banks and an accounting firm in the spring. Trump sued to stop the subpoenas shortly after, in April, and the cases are just now beginning to be considered by the Supreme Court and decided by another appeals court.
- The House says it needs to see confidential details from grand jury proceedings in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and that those details could factor into questions of whether to impeach Trump for obstruction of justice, which Mueller thoroughly investigated. The case will be argued before the appeals court on Jan. 3 alongside McGahn’s case. So both McGahn and the Mueller grand jury questions are still at least a step away from the Supreme Court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they won't hold an impeachment trial or take up the USMCA trade bill until they come back from recess scheduled to begin at the end of next week.
House Democrats engaged in a vigorous debate behind-the-scenes about whether to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice as part of an article of impeachment, but ultimately decided that doing so would become a more difficult message to sell and could cost votes on the floor, according to multiple Democratic sources involved in the discussions.
At a closed-door meeting Monday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team debated about adding an article of impeachment on obstruction of justice related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but it was recognized in the room that they would lose some Democratic votes. The idea was broached of even seeing that article of impeachment voted down, but there was little support for going that route, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
"The leadership made the calculation that less is more," said a senior Democratic aide. "And getting into a confusing investigation that we didn't do ourselves would lose impact."
Several Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee pushed hard to include the language, arguing that not charging Trump with obstruction of justice would excuse Trump's allegedly illegal behavior.
But a source familiar with the matter said that Democrats didn't want to jeopardize the overall impeachment effort, and House Judiciary Committee Democrats ultimately got behind the decision to allude to the Mueller allegations in the articles as part of a reference to a pattern of Trump’s behavior.
GOP Sen. John Cornyn said, “I think it is highly unlikely” that a Senate trial would begin over the holiday.
Instead, he predicted it would begin, “January 6 or some reasonable time."
Senators on both sides have downplayed the idea of being here Christmas week.
Speaking at a Wall Street Journal event today, Attorney General Bill Barr was asked specifically about the second article of impeachment — obstruction of Congress — and whether he considers Trump's direction to White House staffers to defy subpoenas and not testify during the impeachment inquiry an obstruction.
"I don't consider that obstruction," Barr said.
"I don't believe it's the case that where somebody, including a branch of government, is asserting a legal privilege that they have under the law that that constitutes obstruction," Barr said.